International games causing fixtures chaos

Paul Gleghorne, Instonians
Paul Gleghorne, Instonians

First there was frost, then there was snow and now there are internationals resulting in utter fixture chaos.

So, spare a thought for Ulster Hockey fixtures secretary, Raymond Hughes, who has to try and magically find slots for games and have all the premiership games played before March 14 when the Irish Hockey League wildcards are scheduled.

The top five places must be finalised before this date in order that Ulster know which four teams automatically qualify for next season’s IHL. And with the fifth spot also being a possible ticket to the new League, it is crucial these places are decided as soon as possible.

But this week, whilst Hughes tried to juggle fixtures, he came in for criticism from some teams who felt that he had disadvantaged them.

Originally Banbridge were to play Cookstown but with four Bann players away with Ireland in South Africa, they naturally asked for their game to be postponed.

But then they agreed to play Civil Service in a rearranged fixture, which didn’t go down too well with some premiership teams.

One premiership coach said: “Big teams get given new fixtures against the minnows, while international players are away. This smacks of disrespect and inequality. The prize of IHL qualification is too great to be messing around with this willy nilly.”

However, with Service originally down to play Mossley in the Friday night game, it transpired that when the fixture was changed they had several players unavailable for the Saturday game. So the match against Bann had to be cancelled.

And with the rearranged game between Cookstown also being ruled out, there now appears to be only three premiership games being played, leaving Hughes the headache of still finding dates for the ever-increasing backlog – and with the possibility of more winter weather to come – it will not be an easy task.

Instonians welcome Mossley to Shaws’s Bridge and both teams will be without their Irish internationals, Paul Gleghorne and Neal Glassey respectively.

Lisnagarvey host a full strength Kilkeel side who find themselves languishing one spot from an IHL wildcard spot and in the remaining game, Annadale travel to Newry, where the visitors will be hoping to bolster their bid for fifth spot.

Meanwhile, Ireland were given a boost just as they flew to South Africa for their international training camp. In the newly released FIH World rankings, Ireland have moved up two slots to 14th.

This jump has come at a pivotal time for Ireland, as they prepare for the Olympic qualifier process with World League 2 in February and March.

GOC Estate Agents – Premiership Fixtures

Instonians v Mossley (2.30pm, Shawsbridge)

Newry v Annadale (2.30pm, Belfast Road)

Lisnagarvey v Kilkeel (2.45pm, Comber Road)